US won't allow new international students whose courses are entirely online

The announcement came less than two weeks after the ICE rescinded a new directive that could have denied international students their stay in the United States.
The United States will not allow the entry of new international students for the upcoming fall semester if their courses are entirely online, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has said.

The ICE said in a release on Friday that "F and M students in new or initial status after March 9, 2020, would not be able to enter the US to enrol in a US school as a non-immigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 per cent online," Xinhua news agency reported.

It also said school officials should not issue a Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status," for a student in new or initial status who is outside of the United States and plans to take classes at a certified educational institution fully online.

A guidance issued on March 9, 2020, by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which the ICE uses to manage foreign students and exchange visitors in the US, has allowed schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ICE said on Friday that the guidance applied to continuing F and M non-immigrant students who were in valid F-1 or M-1 non-immigrant status on March 9, 2020, including those previously enrolled in entirely online classes outside of the US and seeking to re-enter the country this fall.

Students at Columbia University in New York City, where classes have been suspended. Photo: Reuters

"Students actively enrolled at a US school on March 9, 2020, who subsequently took courses online while outside of the country can re-enter the United States, even if their school is engaged solely in distance learning," it added.

The announcement came less than two weeks after the ICE rescinded a new directive that could have denied international students their stay in the United States if they only attend online courses in this year's fall semester.

The directive, which came as the White House was pushing for the reopening of schools despite the pandemic, had met strong backlash from both home and abroad as well as lawsuits supported by more than 200 universities and 18 states.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge in the United States, many universities have announced plans to hold most or all classes online this fall to protect the health and safety of their students and faculty.

Rakesh Khurana, Danoff Dean of Harvard College, said in a letter to students that "any incoming student who received a Form I-20 to begin their studies this fall will be unable to enter the US in F-1 status as course instruction is fully remote."

"We abhor any policies that seek to force us to choose between our community's health and the education of our international students. The University is working closely with members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation to extend the online exemption to newly admitted students and ensure that this flexibility remains in place for the duration of the public health emergency," Khurana said. "Unfortunately, we don't anticipate any change to the policy in time for the fall semester."

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